The U.S. Navy will no longer consider the COVID-19 vaccination status of sailors when making decisions about their deployment, according to newly updated Navy guidance published this week.
The updated guidance comes shortly after Congress removed the military’s vaccine requirement as part of the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2023.
Biden signed the (NDAA) into law in December and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin officially rescinded the vaccination mandate in January.
“Commanders should seek advice from medical providers regarding medical readiness of personnel to inform deployment and other operational mission decisions,” the Navy’s new guidance said. “COVID-19 vaccination status shall not be a consideration in assessing individual service member suitability for deployment or other operational missions.”
“Under no circumstances shall a Commander mandate that any Navy Service member receives the COVID-19 vaccination,” it adds.
Prior to the updated guidance, the mandate requiring that vaccine status be considered before the deployment of sailors had been in place for more than a year.
No Distinction Between Vaccinated, Non-Vaccinated
Thursday’s updated guidance also noted, “Commanders retain the authority to implement Health Protection Measures at any time or manner deemed necessary in support of operational safety and effectiveness, and where necessary, to restrict movement of service members in order to comply with host nation quarantine regulations.”
Additionally, it noted that senior members of the navy should still evaluate risks to missions and individual sailors.
“Commanders at all levels are directed to balance operational employment with the health and safety of their units in accordance with current USD (P&R) Force Health Protection Guidance,” the guidance said.
It also noted that sailors who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 may still face restrictions when entering countries that have COVID-19 regulations such as quarantine in place, and that in such cases, commanders will need to ensure sailors comply with those requirements.
“GNCCs [Geographic Navy Component Commanders] will assess and determine in advance any host nation quarantine regulation requirements that may challenge U.S. sovereign immunity policy,” the guidance stated.
The guidance makes it clear that there is no distinction between vaccinated and non-vaccinated sailors, and that individual cases of COVID-19 will no longer need to be reported, although pandemic or infectious disease-related medical evacuations, hospitalizations, and deaths will still need to be reported.
According to the United States Naval Institute (USNI), the Navy has separated a total of 2,096 sailors for not adhering to the earlier COVID-19 vaccine mandate—1,664 of whom were on active duty.
Biden to End ‘Public Health Emergency’
Elsewhere, the latest data from the Marine Corps shows that 3,717 Marines were separated for not getting vaccinated as of Dec. 1, while 1,861 active-duty soldiers were separated from the Army as of Dec. 15, according to the latest official data.
The Navy’s updated guidance this week stopped short of addressing whether it will reinstate sailors who were separated for failing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when the mandate was in place.
Biden’s administration has regularly touted vaccinations among military members and troops, citing the need for increased or bolstered protection against COVID-19.
However, many experts have acknowledged that the vaccines do not actually stop transmission of the virus, provide little protection against infection, and have are having a weaker effect on severe illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also acknowledged that stronger protection was granted by natural immunity compared to vaccinations in a study analyzing the Delta Variant of COVID-19.
Despite the Biden administration taking a stringent approach to vaccines in the initial stages of the pandemic—with Biden at one point calling it a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and taking aim at what was in September 2021 80 million unvaccinated Americans—the government appears to have entered a new phase in its response.
Biden will be ending the COVID-19 public health emergency and national emergency declarations on May 11, meaning that many the government will end its funding of COVID-19 related measures. This will also mean that those Americans will wish to undergo COVID-19 testing and treatments will have to pay for such services.